Cravings. The most cliche topic for pregnant women, but they are real and important to address. The definition for craving is "an intense desire or longing for something". I am not sure I would use that dramatic or romantic a definition to describe food cravings, but more like a nagging. A nagging for me to eat a food that will not seem to go away. All other foods seem less appetizing, and until I get it satisfied, I can't seem to think of much else. Any one else empathize?
The thing about cravings is that they are actually messages from your body about what to eat. Your body pretty much has most things handled. We never have to tell our bodies to make the heart beat or to heal a cut, or to breathe. We don't even have to tell it how to create the perfect little life that is growing inside of us, but yet, for some reason sometimes we don't care to listen to it when it tells us what to eat. Interestingly we listen to popular culture more often than we listen to our bodies.
Cravings for different types of foods may actually be your body asking for a nutrient, or a way of letting you know that our foods and/or lives are out of balance. This doesn't stop at just pregnancy either. Learning to listen to your body's desire for certain foods can be a helpful cue into your health and overall well being.
Lack/need for nutrients is one of the main causes of cravings during pregnancy. For example, in my first pregnancy with Sam, I craved a lot of red meat in the form of meat sauce and meatballs. I also craved spinach. I would come home from work, open up a package of frozen spinach and eat the entire package in one sitting. So what was my body telling me? Not so subtly, it was saying "I need iron". And indeed, my iron levels were borderline anemic. Had I not given into those cravings, I may have indeed become anemic, which would have required intervention via medication and additional supplementation.
Here are some common cravings and possible nutritional explanations:
- Pickles or other sour fermented foods like sauerkraut: B12. These types of foods help the uptake of B12. Examine your intake of animal foods and give into the pickle cravings.
- Dairy including ice cream: Calcium
- Red meat: Iron and B12
- Vegetables (spinach, broccoli, greens, carrots, etc.): Variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
- Fruits (berries and citrus): Variety of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants
- Salty foods: Salt and other minerals
Now, the lack of nutrients will account for most cravings that pregnancy brings and it is important to listen to those cravings and eat the healthiest versions of what you are craving. But is there really a nutritional need for M&M's and Frito's? It is less likely. So what are other causes of cravings?
- Protein may be out of balance. This can cause cravings for sweets. When we do not have enough protein we crave more food and your body knows that fastest and surest way towards more calories is fat/sugar. According to Chinese Traditional Medicine, when we are having too much protein (which is yang) we swing back the other way and crave more sugar (which is yin) to balance the your body.
- Comfort. Sometimes when we are sad/lonely/scared, we reach for the comfort foods. They can be foods from childhood or the nearest snack or sweet. Really think about your state of mind when having a craving to see what you think you are really craving. It could be a cuddle and reassurance from your sweetie instead of that pack of cookies you are grabbing.
- Stress. Your body's chemistry literally changes when you are stressed. You release cortisol and adrenaline, which changes your state of mind and your nutritional needs. Many people reach for food in order to deal with stress. If you are feeling very stressed, it is time to re-evaluate your lifestyle especially in time for baby. When baby comes the world will slip away and you will be focused on other things. Maybe it is time to look at your job and begin setting new boundaries there. Maybe it is time to relax and let a bit of the housekeeping go (or hire someone to offload the burden) or shuffle some of the household responsibilities with your significant other. But really taking time for yourself will be better for you and better for baby. Your pregnancy and labor, not to mention transition into motherhood will be better for it.
- Water. Sometimes we get hungry when we are really thirsty. So keep yourself hydrating and take a sip of water before reaching for any sweets. You may find the craving goes away.
Now, that is not to say we should never give into our sweet cravings, but maybe we can attempt to eat the healthiest versions of what we are craving and dig a little deeper into the reasons we think we are craving those foods. I crave baked goods occasionally, and I try to make some healthy versions that will deliver some whole grains and important nutrients while at the same time satisfy my sweet tooth. I often do that in forms of breads made with fruits, veggies, and gentle sweeteners.
Buttercup Squash Quick bread with Flax
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (pastry if you have it)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tbs flax meal
3/4 cup honey
1 cup buttercup squash cooked/mashed (can replace with pumpkin, butternut squash, or kumbacha)
1/2 cup grape seed or canola oil
1 beaten egg
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp cloves
opt: chopped walnuts
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Combine first 4 ingredients (dry) in a bowl.
- Combine honey, squash, oil, egg, and water in separate bowl. Stir in spices.
- Add the dry mixture into the wet mixture and mix until just combined.
- Scoop into 5x9x3 greased loaf pan.
- Top with chopped walnuts if desired.
- Bake for 50-60 min until toothpick comes out clean.
- Serve with a little drizzle of honey to sweeten it up.
Makes one loaf but you can double the recipe and freeze one to save for another craving day!